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  • resolutions are junk

    Your goals at work

    Resolutions are a useless way to fix your life. The reason they fail so utterly for most people is that they are nothing more than a goal, and the most a goal can be is a step towards fixing your life.

    People make resolutions like “Lose weight” or “Go the gym more” or “Read a book a month”. Again, these are goals. These are items on a checklist. Does anyone believe that a checklist is going to fix the stuff that’s wrong in their life?

    Goals are useful tools if used properly, but the proper use of goals is not to complete goals; it’s to fulfill our values. What we believe and what we value are what guide our lives, not our to-do lists. Lists enumerate the ways in which we are not free, not fulfilled, not living our life on our terms.

    Values are what we should be living our lives by. I think most people would agree, but that doesn’t mean we are in a position to live by our values. I don’t think my experience in this regard is too far from uncommon.

    Had you asked me two years ago if I was living a values-driven life, I would have said Yes, and I would have believed it. Then I got into regular mental health care, and my counselor suggested the book The Happiness Trap. This books is an explication of the mindfulness-based therapy ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The key to ACT, beyond developing and utilizing a mindfulness practice, is to identify explicitly what your values are.

    I could not do this. Turns out what I thought were values were a combination of two things: doing things because they seemed to be right, or because I felt I ought, and setting goals without understanding what the real purpose to those goals ought to be. Because I did not know what my values were, I had no way to live my life based on those values. I was substituting things like feelings, opportunities, and guesses.

    So starting about April of 2020, I began working through what my values might be. Some were easy to identify; others took time. I would pick a word, like “learning”, and then consider how that might or might not be a value. At one point, “knowledge” seemed to be the value I was aiming at, but in the end, I returned to “learning” because it is the act and not the end result that I care most about.

    Having values that I can list and define allows me to set goals that are meaningful. Goals are stepping stones along a path. Failing to meet a goal is not a failure; it’s an opportunity for a reassessment and a restart. There are many good reasons a goal might not be met, so making them vital life-markers is a mistake. If my goal is to run a 5K this summer, and I hurt my knee or have family issues arise, have I failed in some way? Of course not.

    If my value is health and fitness but I never get outside and bicycle or walk and my diet is low in nutritional value, that could be considered failure – although that kind of absolutist language doesn’t do a lot of good. Not meeting a goal is disappointing, but not living according to my values means I need to take a serious look at what I’m doing and why I’m not staying more aligned to my values.

    I got thinking along these lines while listening to a podcast I enjoy, Holding Kourt, with Kourtney Turner and her husband, Justin, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-baseman. They were talking about resolutions, and she talked about a couple she’s been able to keep the past few years. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that these successful resolutions are aligned with her values. She didn’t say so explicitly, so I’m not sure if she understands why those resolutions worked and others haven’t.

    As a means to fix your life, resolutions and goals are junk. You’ll do better to identify your values and to be specific. Get them down to single words; here are some of mine:

    creativity

    learning

    fitness, health

    respect

    To you, these are just some words that have various meanings. To me, these are the foundation of my life and my mental healthiness. Writing this piece makes me see that I need to revisit my notes from 2020-21 and update my values, so to speak. I need to reconnect with the ideas and then see what may have changed. This will allow me to look over my life as it stands now and decide what I’m going to do – what goals I will set – in order to live out my values.

    Values are never junk. They are what you base your life on. Without knowing them in your own mind, and in your own words, you’re going to have the same kinds of problem I have lived with: living my life without much of a clue and wondering why nothing seems to be going right.

  • getting over it

    I was the kind of boy who would fall in love if a girl treated me nice. It didn’t take much, and I had no idea it wasn’t real. Today, of course, I understand why I was like that but I also know this: the urge to fall in love with a woman who is nice to me hasn’t gone away.

    This afternoon at work, a young woman came in to browse. Things are really slow right now, so I did the greeting-and-let-me-know-if-I-can-help thing, then left her to browse. A bit later, she was in a different area and I said something inane like, Still browsing? I ended up showing her some nice French cookware, not because she was going to buy anything but on a slow day when you are desperate for anything to do, it’s fun to take extra time with a customer.

    One of my bigger problems as a social person is that I am not a chit-chatter. I can’t do that thing where you say stuff that doesn’t mean much but is at least entertaining and keeps a conversation going, however superficially. But now and then, I find myself talking with someone with whom chit-chat comes easy. 

    This woman was that kind of person. We spend about ten minutes talking, then another few minutes later as she was leaving. All in all, it was the kind of interaction that, outside a retail setting, might lead a person to ask for a phone number or such. And by “a person” I don’t mean me because I have never had that kind of nerve or ambition in my life.

    But I did enjoy chatting with her, and she seemed to enjoy chatting with me. After work, as I headed home and thought a bit more about it, I remembered how I was as a teenager: a pretty girl is nice to me, and I fall in love. I did not fall in love with this woman. I enjoyed talking with her, which is good enough. I have no need to fall in love. I do have a need to spend enjoyable time with people during my day. It’s one of the things I like about this job: lots of opportunities to help people and enjoy their company, even if it is in a retail setting.

    I am more likely to be uncomfortable with people. Lots of reasons for this, but most involve my anxieties getting in the way. I hope, in time, these will fade as I continue to work towards mental healthiness. I hope I learn to relax so that I can be pleasant company even if there isn’t a lot to talk about. But I can say this about how I am now, as a 65-year-old adult as opposed to a 15-year-old teenager:

    I’m glad I don’t fall in love so easily anymore.

  • best year ever

    For many people, the meme to the right expresses the past two years quite well, not to mention their fears for this year. This is understandable. The pandemic has killed 800,000 Americans with more to come. Donald Trump tried to use his followers to overthrown the government. The economy broke, as did the supply chain, and what was normal in 2019 is gone forever.

    Oh, and Tom Brady won another Super Bowl. That really makes this period intolerable to a lot of people.

    So excuse me for not being part of the gloom-and-doom festivities, but 2020 and 2021 were perhaps the best years of my life, and 2023 could be even better. This tells you how awful my years before 2020 were and how I have been spared, personally and in my family, of much of the worst of what occurred. I did not escape unscathed, of course, but the good things that occurred were far greater than the bad.

    Even my break-through covid was no worse than a light case of flu – along with losing about $500 from missing work. Bleah. But here is why 2020 and 2021 were so good for me, and I can sum it up in two words:

    Mental healthcare.

    As 2019 was coming to a close, I was living with untreated depression and undiagnosed anxiety; I later came to understand that I had been since I was a child. I’m now learning that it’s likely my personality leans in the direction of anxiety and that my early years enable the anxiety to become chronic, impacting my life negatively until I finally got the help I needed. In 2020.

    Then at some point near the end of that year, I had the thought: Maybe I’m eligible for the VA. Of course I was, and I had been since 1979 when I left the Air Force. Decades without healthcare, and it was there all along. So I applied, got enrolled, and made an appointment for mental health intake.

    That was March 3rd. The next week, the country shut down. But I had a mental health counselor and we met regularly, online, for the next year-and-a-half. Without doubt, this was the best thing to ever happen to me. We quickly realized the role of anxiety in my life, and I was able to begin working my way towards living my life on my terms, not anxiety’s. I was especially helped by the book “The Happiness Trap”, which I’ll discuss in coming posts.

    The other big mental healthcare step for me was participating in an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) program through the VA in April-May. This is the original clinical mindfulness program developed by Jon Kabatt-Zinn in 1979; it is the program from which all other mindfulness-based mental healthcare regimes are descended.

    MBSR works. It flat-out works, generally better than other forms of therapy (and medication), and has been proven by clinical results. I repeated the program in 2021 and got even more from it. I developed a mindfulness practice that slowly but surely rewired my brain from anxiety, and all the fear attached to it, towards living a life that fulfills the values I hold.

    I had taken early Social Security in late 2019. My benefit is 25% smaller than if I had waited until I was 65, but I also knew that any kind of job was almost impossible, for a variety of reasons. So between SSI and SNAP, I had enough to get by. The two other people I shared a house with were pretty good with the protocols, although not nearly fanatic as I was most of 2020. We got through that year unscathed by the virus.

    2021 brought a few big changes. I had to move, and, while I found a place that was cheaper and quieter, it was also in Beaverton. The people who I rent from also live here, and they watch, and believe, Fox News. They are, of course, unvaccinated, and they eventually, of course, caught covid and passed it along to me, vaxxed as I was (and now I am boosted, too).

    I also got a part-time job, which means the hassle of getting to work on-time, having food ready to take for lunch, and not having all day to lounge around doing nothing. Or having all day to go for a long bike ride or a walk through Forest Park. But it’s a fun job, at Kitchen Kaboodle, and I love having an employee discount there!

    So today, on January 1st, 2022, I can look back at the past two years and be deeply grateful for all the good they have brought me. Again, I am lucky that my siblings, my sons, and all their families have stayed safe and healthy (vaccinations, all around). They’ve kept their jobs, and my grandkids got through a year of distance learning in pretty good shape.

    And although my life still needs a lot of work, I recognize how much healthier my mind is than two years ago, before I started mindfulness (on my own) and counseling. It should be no surprise that I’ve done well, given the lack of bad stuff and my access to professional, on-going, free, mental healthcare. If we valued human beings in this country, we would do all we can to mitigate the bad stuff people live through, and we would provide everyone with the mental healthcare they need.

    We don’t care about humans in this country. We care about ourselves, our families, and our stuff. For numerous bizarre reasons, we allow the rich and powerful to run roughshod over us. And I’ll limit the rant to those two sentences.

    My path to fulfillment as a person is still a difficult one. There are things I want to do that I’ve wanted to for years but have never managed to accomplish. Sixty years of mental unhealthiness isn’t undone in just a few short years. But I have the understand, the tools, and the experience of the past two years of growth and health. 2022 won’t be easy, but I’ve never come into a year better prepared to live it fully, and on my own terms, than I am this year.